Service glitches at the 'ATM'

It's 1 in the morning. It's 5 below zero. Investment advisor co-workers David (Brian Geraghty), Emily (Alice Eve) and Corey (Josh Peck) have stopped at a remote, glass-enclosed ATM to grab some cash. While inside, they notice a stranger, face obscured by a hooded parka, staring at them from the parking lot. Is he just waiting his turn or does he have something else on his mind?

The tedious thriller "ATM" dawdles for nearly 20 minutes before finally arriving at this set-up, time wasted flimsily establishing its characters. (David has a crush on Emily. She likes him back. Corey is a world-class meathead. You don't want any of them handling your money.) Director David Brooks proves more economical when it comes to meting out dramatic tension. Our trio barely has time to muse on Parka Stranger's intent before he brutally murders a passing dog walker.

The next hour preposterously plays out in and around the ATM as the young threesome must decide what to do. Since the glass door requires an ATM card for entry, they're presumably secure. Only ... the door's broken. Only ... the killer doesn't know that. Or does he?

Screenwriter Chris Sparling worked in confined spaces to far better effect before with the minimalist Ryan Reynolds thriller "Buried." He must have used his best ideas there.

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Glenn Whipp

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"ATM." MPAA rating: R for violence and terror. Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes. At Laemmle's Monica 4-Plex, Santa Monica.

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Human ties hold 'Attenberg'

From the gangly awkwardness of its opening scene -- a pleasure-free lesson in kissing -- it's clear that "Attenberg" aims to provoke. Its bored young characters and flat-affect performances recall another innovative Greek drama, "Dogtooth." But rather than the pitch-dark absurdity of that recent film, writer-director Athina Rachel Tsangari centers hers on a welling sense of grief and hope. Using occasional song-and-dance numbers with a melancholy Godardian kick, she creates a world that's off-center and alive with loneliness.

The kissing instructor is Bella (Evangelia Randou), and her uninspired student is best friend Marina (Ariane Labed), a 23-year-old virgin facing the imminent death of her single-parent father (an affecting performance by Vangelis Mourikis). Their bond is expressed in word games and uninhibited conversation, and their hospital visits are intimate vignettes of love and desolation amid the droning machinery.

An architect, he casts a mournful eye on the ugliness of their coastal town. Tsangari uses the setting powerfully, from the drab hotels to the factory complex of rusty tanks and belching smokestacks. The lapping surf, heard more than seen, pulses beneath the fumbling human interactions. Those include Marina's unlyrical sexual initiation with an engineer ("Dogtooth" director Yorgos Lanthimos), with whom she shares an appreciation of the band Suicide.

The film's title refers to Bella's mispronunciation of the name Attenborough, as in David. His nature documentaries are a key source of fascination and solace for Marina, as she tries to step outside the human condition to understand it.

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Sheri Linden

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"Attenberg." No MPAA rating; in Greek with English subtitles. Running time: 1 hours, 37 minutes. At Laemmle's Monica 4-Plex, Santa Monica; Laemmle's Playhouse 7, Pasadena.

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Light is shined on pollution

Air pollution, water pollution and even noise pollution have been in the zeitgeist for years, but light pollution? If that topic seems a tad under the radar, the excellent documentary "The City Dark" may put an end to that.

Writer-producer-director Ian Cheney's poetic, at times profound, film sheds, well, light on how the constant increase of modern-day artificial illumination has brightened our urban -- and many suburban -- night skies to the point that the stars and planets can often barely be seen.

Cheney, a Maine native who longs for the star-studded firmament of his youth, travels to New York, Chicago, South Florida, Maui and other locations to examine light pollution's many ill effects. These include increased breast cancer risk in night-shift workers, the death of countless disoriented birds and sea turtles and a growing inability to detect potentially fatal asteroids. Think that sounds overly alarmist or conspiratorial? Think again.

Interviews with amateur and professional astronomers, lighting designers, writers, historians and scientists informatively flesh out the film's eye-opening themes and inquiries. But it's an evocative visit to rural Arizona's Sky Village mountain community that reminds us that in some darkened corners one can still clearly behold the glittering universe above -- even if those vantage points have become fewer and farther between.

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Gary Goldstein

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"The City Dark." No MPAA rating. Running time: 1 hour, 23 minutes. At the Downtown Independent, Los Angeles.

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'Delicacy' seen in glimpses

Few actresses rack up the attentive camera time that French star Audrey Tautou gets in her movies, where the anticipation of pixie-ish adorableness -- an angry pout! something amused her! -- becomes a uniquely sexless spectator sport. The new film "Delicacy" is no exception, though Tautou may have met her match in the Quirk Wars in costar Francois Damiens.

After losing her loving husband, widowed Nathalie (Tautou) swears off personal relationships with workaholic resolve until she plants a kiss on sweet-natured office worker Markus (Damiens), a big, goofy Swede. Sibling directors David and Stephane Foenkinos, adapting a novel by David, focus the second half of the film on their hesitant courtship, which must overcome a jealous boss, bewildered friends and, for audiences' sake, a cloying song score of drippy romance-pop.

When darker emotions are required, Tautou hints at deeper reserves of performance -- she's much more interesting as a peeved ladybug than an Everywaif -- but it's Damiens' soulful portrait of a self-possessed, huggable nerd that puts the film on equal magnetism footing with the "Amelie" star's bag of mugging tricks.

"Delicacy" isn't going to set anybody's psyche on fire with its insights into grieving and emotional recovery, but as a crepe-thin romantic snack, it has its moments.

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Robert Abele

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"Delicacy." No MPAA rating; in French with English subtitles. Running time: 1 hour, 48 minutes. At Laemmle's Royal Theatre, West Los Angeles; Laemmle's Town Center 5, Encino; Laemmle's Playhouse 7, Pasadena; Edwards University Town Center 6, Irvine.

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Service in a time full of distrust

During World War II, an estimated 3,000 Nisei (second-generation Japanese Americans) fought as part of a secret U.S. army against their ancestral homeland -- sometimes even battling family members -- as their fellow Japanese Americans were being relocated to FDR-mandated internment camps. Still, defending America was perhaps the best way for young Nisei men and women to prove their loyalty to a nation that no longer trusted their patriotism.

This dichotomy and its lasting effect on these former soldiers is detailed in "MIS: Human Secret Weapon," the third documentary in Junichi Suzuki's significant series about the Japanese American experience in World War II.

While the war stories told here by a raft of MIS (Military Intelligence Service) veterans, many of whom are now well into their 90s, are historically involving and often quite emotional, an excess of talking heads and, at times, interchangeable testimony dilutes their inherent power. The accompanying trove of archival footage and photos, however, helps break the occasional monotony; the juxtaposition of these elderly vets with snapshots of their 1940s-era, uniformed selves is always affecting.

Suzuki goes on to cover America's occupation of postwar Japan and the Niseis' key role in the devastated country's reconstruction. But that section too would have benefited from some judicious editing and better narrative framing.

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Gary Goldstein

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"MIS: Human Secret Weapon." No MPAA rating; in English and Japanese with English subtitles. Running time: 1 hour, 41 minutes. At Laemmle's NoHo 7, North Hollywood.

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Shakespeare goes to school

Alex Rotaru's engaging if uneven documentary "Shakespeare High" showcases the 90th annual DTASC (Drama Teachers Assn. of Southern California) Shakespeare festival, a competition that once hosted such high school hopefuls as Kevin Spacey, Mare Winningham, Val Kilmer and Richard Dreyfuss. Although these starry alumni are all interviewed here about their nascent years attending the contest, it's the current crop of featured neophytes that proves far more compelling.

The film's first half introduces an eclectic array of Southland teens -- from poor, working-class and more privileged environs -- as they prepare to competitively perform stripped-down, creatively reconfigured scenes from "Macbeth," "Othello" and "A Midsummer Night's Dream" (Rotaru largely eschews process for results). Whether it's the charismatic, football-playing twins whose father killed their mother and grandmother, the streetwise ex-gang members, the ebullient son of former skinheads or the many unabashed "drama geeks," these students offer tales of newfound focus, confidence and passion, courtesy of the Bard, that are enormously inspiring.

Unfortunately, the often confusing presentation of the showdown itself, with its dizzying myriad of kids, categories and performances, overly densifies what should have emerged as a tenser, more fast-paced face-off. Still, it's impossible not to root for these driven, high-spirited participants -- and for the longevity of this invaluable program.

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Gary Goldstein

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"Shakespeare High." No MPAA rating. Running time: 1 hour, 22 minutes. At the Downtown Independent, Los Angeles.

For The Record Los Angeles Times Saturday, April 07, 2012 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 4 News Desk 1 inches; 34 words Type of Material: Correction "Delicacy": A review of "Delicacy" in the April 6 Calendar section listed Laemmle's Royal Theatre in West Los Angeles as one of the theaters where the movie is playing. It is not screening there.
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